Kate O’Brien (1897-1974)


Life
b. 3 Dec. 1897, in Limerick, youngest of four dgs. of Thomas O’Brien and Catherine [née Thornhill], a wealthy Catholic horse-dealer and his wife, who died of cancer when she was five; spent twelve years thereafter at the Limerick boarding school Laurel Hill French Convent [Limerick], run by the Faithful Companions of Jesus, a French order of nuns; there she following a continental curriculum under the tutelage of an English Reverend Mother; suffered death of her father, 1916; intended by her family to work in a bank, she won a scholarship and entered UCD (her fees prob. being paid by the Bishop of Limerick), 1916, and witnessed the city as ‘a bleeding and smoking theatre of tragedy’ during the Rising; grad. BA (English & French), 1919;
 
moved to London and reviewed for The Sphere, later working at translation for the foreign section of Guardian Weekly [Manchester]; briefly taught at St. Mary’s Convent, Hampstead; visited Washington as secretary to her br.-in-law Stephen O’Mara who was chairman of de Valera’s Bonds Drive; became governess to the Areilza family nr. Bilboa, 1922; returned to London, 1923, and m. Gustaaf Renier, a Dutch journalist (the model for Henry Archer in The Land of Spices), divorcing within a year; began writing in early 1920s; her play Distinguished Villa, written for a bet, an for three months in London, 1926; followed by another, The Bridge (Arts Th. Club, London, 1927), before turning to novels;
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issued Without My Cloak (Dec. 1931), winner of Hawthornden and James Tait Black prizes, a chronicle of three generations of the Considines (1789-1877), an Irish bourgeois [shopkeeper] family residing in ‘Mellick’ [Limerick] and centred on Denis, the sensitive son who epitomises the struggle for individual freedom and love against the constricting demands of bourgeois family, Irish society and a Catholic ethos; issued The Ante-Room (1934), her own favourite, an Ibsenite tale of emotional and religious crisis in the Mulqueen family, and a struggle between passion and Catholic conscience ending with a suicide on the part of the object of the heroine’s love; issued Mary Lavelle (1936), a novel in which the title-character travels to Spain as a governess to the Areavagas family and finds personal freedom through her relationship with Juanito with whom she has an affair;
 
it makes overt reference to homosexuality in the character of Agatha Conlon, an Irish girl struggling with lesbian desires, and hence banned by Irish censors; reviewed Samuel Beckett’s Murphy (1938), with other novels and judged that ‘Murphy swept all before him’ calling it ‘a book in a hundred thousand’; issued The Land of Spices (1941), set in 1904-14, and concerning he relationship between a young Irish girl and Mère Marie-Hélène [being Helen Archer, an Englishwoman], the Reverend Mother who herself entered the convent of Saint Famille on witnessing her father in a homosexual embrace with a student - a single oblique reference to which caused the novel to be banned in Ireland - and is led to a more sympathetic view of him, recalling his love of the poets Herbert and Crashaw;
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also traces Archer’s liberal ideas and the reaction of the bishop who finds them ‘too European for present-day Irish requirements’, but shows an emergent nationalism in the nun’s sympathy for her Irish boarder; enjoyed international success with That Lady (1946), a novel concerning Ana de Mendoza and Philip II who immures her on account of her affair with Antonio Perez; adapted for Broadway with Katharine Cornell in lead, 1949, and later filmed with Olivia de Havilland as Ana (1955); refused entry to Spain for her treatment of Philip II up to 1957, when the Irish ambassador intervened successfully; issued Farewell Spain (1937), severely criticising Franco’s government and incurring a 20-year ban on entry to that country; issued Teresa of Avila (1952), a life of the mystic, and later gave a series of radio talks on the saint for Radio Éireann in 1969;
 
lived in England for 20 years on leaving Spain and later moved to Ireland, living at Roundstone, Connemara, 1950; declared bankrupt in 1960, and sold her house in Connemara in 1961; gave a paper on Spain the Spanish Society at UCD, 1963 [publ. in Univ. Review]; settled in village cottage in Boughton [nr. Canterbury], Kent, 1965; suffered from writer’s block and rarely published again; contrib. “Long Distance”, a column, to The Irish Times; re-visited America; d. in hospital at Faversham, Kent, d. 13 Aug., leaving uncompleted novel Constancy; bur. Faversham (‘Irish Novelist’ and ‘Pray for the Wanderer’ engraved on stone); an inaugural commemorative held in Limerick in 1984, and perpetuated as the annual Kate O’Brien Weekend; her papers were donated by Austin Hall, a godson, to Univ. of Limerick in 2004, while others are held at the National Library of Ireland;
 
There was an early television interview in which she spoke of a ‘bourgeois and sheltered and happy childhood’ in ‘my dear native place’; The Ante-Room was republished by Arlen House in 1980 - counted a major step in the feminist rewriting of the Irish canon - and adapted for the stage by Kevin O’Connor (Belltable Arts Centre, Limerick, 4 July 1996); Mary Lavelle was filmed as Talk of Angels (Miramax 1998); a portrait of Kate O’Brien was commissioned from John Shinnors by the organising committee of the the Kate O’Brien Weekend (Limerick) in 2007 and unveiled there in 2009; she was honoured in Avila at a formal ceremony on Tuesday, when a street (Calle Kate O’Brien) was named after her. IF DIB DIW DIL KUN FDA G20 OCIL
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See official inauguration of Calle Kate O’Brien in Avila - on Youtube - (27 Sept. 2011).

Works
Plays
  • Distinguished Villa: Play in Three Acts (London: Ernest Benn 1926); That Lady [stage vers.] (NY: Harper 1949).
 
Novels
  • Without My Cloak (London: William Heinemann 1931), 469pp. [see details];
  • The Ante-Room (London: William Heinemann; 1934), 306pp. [signed “Limerick, 18th Jan. 1934”], and Do. (NY: Garden City: Doubleday, Doran 1934);
  • Mary Lavelle (London: William Heinemann; NY: Garden City: Doubleday, Doran 1936) [see details];
  • The Schoolroom Window ([London: William Heinemann; NY: Garden City: Doubleday, Doran 1937);
  • Pray for a Wanderer (London: William Heinemann; NY: Garden City: Doubleday, Doran 1938);
  • The Land of Spices (London: William Heinemann 1941; Millington 1973);
  • The Last of Summer (1943; rep. Virago 1990);
  • That Lady (London: William Heinemann 1946; Harmondsworth: Penguin 1965), publ. in America as For One Sweet Grape (Garden City: Doubleday 1946);
  • The Flower of May: A Novel (London: William Heinemann 1953), 374pp.;
  • As Music and Splendour (NY: Harper 1958);
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Travel & Biography
  • Farewell Spain (London: William Heinemann; NY: Garden City: Doubleday, Doran 1937), 299pp.;
  • English Diaries and Journals (1943);
  • Teresa of Avila (London: Max Parrish; NY: Sheed & Ward 1951).
 
Memoirs
  • My Ireland (London: B. T. Batsford; NY: Hastings House 1962), 199p., ill. [maps];
  • Presentation Parlour (London: William Heinemann 1963), 137pp., and Do. [rep. edn.] (Dublin: Poolbeg Press 1994), 126pp., and Do. [rep.] (London: Stratus 2001), 122pp.
 
Miscellaneous
  • review of Samuel Beckett, Murphy, in Spectator (25 March 1938), [q.p.; rep. in Lawrence Graver & Raymond Federman, eds., Critical Heritage of Samuel Beckett (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul 1974), p.48.
  • ‘George Eliot: A Moralist and a Fabulist’, in G. R. Hamilton, ed., Essays by Divers Hands [Trans. of the Royal Soc. of Literature: No. 27 (London: [RSL 1955) [cp.55];
  • ‘UCD as I Forget It’, in University Review (Summer 1963), pp.6-11 [see extracts - attached].
  • ‘Imaginative Prose by the Irish, 1820-1970’, in Joseph Ronsley, ed., Myth and Reality in Irish Literature (Ontario 1977), pp.305-15.
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Virago Press Reprints

That Lady, intro. Des Hogan [Modern Classics] (London: Virago 1996); The Ante-Room, with Afterword by Deirdre Madden [Modern Classics] (London: Virago 1996), 306pp. [Afterword, 17pp., signed “Intermesoli, Italy, 1988”], and Do. [rep.] (Virago 2006), 213pp.; Mary Lavelle, introduced by Michèle Roberts (London: Virago 1984), 368pp., and Do. [new edn.], introduced by Tamsin Hargreaves (London: Virago 1998), xxii, 316pp., and Do. (Virago 2006); As Music and Splendour (London: Penguin 2005), q.pp.; Land of Spices (London: Virago 2006), 321pp.; Without my Cloak (London: Virago 2006), 489pp.

 
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Bibliographical details
Without My Cloak (London: William Heinemann 1931), 469pp.; Do. [another edn.] (London: William Heinemann 1932), vii, 469pp., ill. [woodcuts decor. by Freda Bone]; Do. (NY: Garden City: Doubleday, Doran 1931) [469pp.]; Do. (London: William Heinemann 1947), 384pp., and Do. (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1949); Do., [Panther Books, 993] (London: Hamilton & Co. 1959), 319pp., and Do., [rep. edn.] with new introduction by Desmond Hogan (London: Virago 1986), xix, 469pp., ill. [Freda Bone]. Also trans. by Roberto Cartigliani as Senza Mantello: romanzo (Milan: Garzanti 1941), 611pp.

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Mary Lavelle (London: William Heinemann 1936), xii, 345pp.; Do. (NY: Garden City: Doubleday, Doran 1936); Do. [rep. edn.] [Evergreen Books, 16] (London: William Heinemann; Chatto & Windus 1940), 316pp.; Do. [Heinemann Pocket Edition] (London: William Heinemann 1947); Do. (Harmondsworth: Penguin 1951), 256pp.; Do. [Panther Books (London: Hamilton & Co. 1958), 223pp., and Do. [another edn. in large print by Chivers, 1977, xi, 446pp.]; introduced by Michèle Roberts (London: Virago 1984), 368pp., and Do. [new edn.], introduced by Tamsin Hargreaves (London: Virago 1990), xxii, 316pp., and Do. (Virago 2006). [Note that COPAC lists Michele Roberts rather than Tamsin Hargreaves as author of the introduction to the 1984 edn. in one instance while styling Hargreaves’s as ‘a new introduction’ in another, as in the 1990 edn. also.]

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Criticism
  • Vivian Mercier, ‘Kate O’Brien’, in Irish Writing, I (1946), pp.86-100.
  • Interview article in New York Times (4 Dec. 1949), p.22.
  • John Jordan, ‘Some Works of the Month, Kate O’Brien: A Note on Her Themes, Being a Consideration of The Flower of May’, in The Bell, XIX, 7 (Jan. 1954), pp.53-59.
  • John Jordan, review of My Ireland, by Kate O'Brien, in University Review, 3, 2 (1963), pp.72-74 [available at JSTOR online].
  • John Jordan, ‘Kate O’Brien: First Lady of Irish Letters’, in Hibernia (11 May 1973), p.11.
  • John Jordan, ‘Kate O’Brien: A Passionate Talent’, in Hibernia (30 Aug. 1974), p,19.
  • Eavan Boland, ‘That Lady: A Profile of Kate O’Brien 1897-1974’, in The Critic, XXXIV, 2 (Winter 1975), pp.16-25.
  • John Jordan, ed., ‘Kate O’Brien Special Issue’, in John Liddy, ed., Stony Thursday Book, 7 (Limerick 1981) [q.pp.]
  • Barbara Di Bernard, ‘Kate O’Brien’, in Robert Hogan, ed., Dictionary of Irish Literature (Conn: Greenwood Publ.; Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1979) [ref. article].
  • Eavan Boland, Preface [introduction] to The Ante-Room [1934] (Dublin: Arlen House Press 1980).
  • Lorna Reynolds, Preface to The Land of Spices [1941] (Dublin: Arlen House 1982).
  • Joan Ryan, ‘Women in the Novels of Kate O’Brien’, in Heinz Kosok, ed., Studies in Anglo-Irish Literature (Bonn: Bovier Verlag Herbert Grundmann 1982), pp.322-32.
  • Joan Ryan, ‘Class and Creed in Kate O’Brien’, in Maurice Harmon, ed., Irish Writer and Society (Colin Smythe 1984), pp.125-35.
  • Adele M. Dalsimer, ‘A Not So Simple Saga: Kate O’Brien’s Without My Cloak’, in Éire-Ireland, 21, 3 (Fall 1986), pp.55-71.
  • Lorna Reynolds, Kate O’Brien: A Literary Portrait (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe; NJ: Barnes & Noble 1987).
  • Lorna Reynolds, ‘The Image of Spain in the Novels of Kate O’Brien’, in Wolfgang Zach and Heinz Kosok, eds., Literary Interrelations: Ireland, England and the World, Vol. III: National Images and Stereotypes (Tübingen: Guntar Narr Verlag, 1987), pp.181-87.
  • John Hildebidle, Five Irish Writers: The Errand of Keeping Alive (Harvard UP 1989), [10], 245, [1]pp. [with Liam O’Flaherty, Elizabeth Bowen, Seán O’Faoláin & Frank O’Connor];
  • Adele M. Dalsimer, Kate O’Brien: A Critical Study (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1990) [see extract].
  • John Cronin, ‘Kate O’Brien, The Ante-Room’, in Irish Fiction, 1900-1940 [The Anglo-Irish Novel, Vol. II] (Belfast: Appletree Press 1990) [Chap. XII], pp.138-47 [see extract].
  • Ann Owens Weekes, ‘Kate O’Brien: Family in the New Nation’, in Irish Women Writers: An Uncharted Tradition (Kentucky UP 1990), pp.108-32 [see extract].
  • Rose Quiello, ‘“Disturbed Desires”: The Hysteric in Kate O’Brien’s Mary Lavelle’, in Éire-Ireland, 25, 3 (Fall 1990), pp.46-57.
  • Benedict Kiely, ‘Love, Pain and Parting: The Novels of Kate O’Brien’, in The Hollins Critic, 29, 2 (April 1992), pp.1-11, rep. in A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays (Cork UP 1999), pp. 55-65.
  • Éibhear Walshe, ed., Ordinary People Dancing: Essays on Kate O’Brien (Cork UP 1993), 256pp. [incls. essays by Mary Breen, Anthony Roche, et al.]
  • Anne Fogarty, ‘The Ear of the Other: Dissident Voices in Kate O’Brien’s As Music and Splendour and Marcy Dorcey’s A Noise from the Woodshed’, in Éibhear Walshe, ed., Sex, Nation and Dissent in Irish Writing (Cork UP 1997), pp.170-201 [see extract].
  • Eileen Battersby, ‘What Kate Wrote: Dissecting the Bourgeois Mind’ (Irish Times, 15 Feb. 1997) [see extract].
  • Declan Kiberd, ‘Kate O’Brien: The Ante-Room’, in Irish Classics (London: Granta 2000), pp.556-73 [see extract].
  • Geraldine Meaney [UCD], ‘Regendering Modernism: The Woman Artist in Irish Women’s Fiction’, in Women: a Cultural Review 15, 1 (March 2004), pp. 67-82 [considered with Rosamund Jacob].
  • Anne Enright, ‘A many-splendoured love story’, in The Irish Times, Weekend (20 Aug. 2005) [see extract]
  • Eibhear Walshe, Kate O’Brien: A Writing Life (Dublin: IAP 2006), xiii, 194pp., ill. [8pp. of pls.].
  • Catherine Smith, ‘Irish Confessional Discourse in Kate O’Brien’s Novels’; in Essays In Irish Literary Criticism: Themes of Gender, Sexuality, and Corporeality, ed. Deirdre Quinn & Sharon Tighe-Mooney (Lampeter: Mellen Press 2008), q.pp.
  • Sharon Tighe-Mooney, ‘“The Erotic Highstyle”: Self-Reflexivity and Performativity in Robert McLiam Wilson’s Eureka Street and Ripley Bogle’, in Quinn & Tighe-Mooney, op. cit. (2008), q.pp.
  • Mary Coll, ed., Faithful Companions: Collected Essays Celebrating the 25th Anniversary of the Kate O’Brien Weekend (Limerick: Mellick Press 2009), iv, 187pp.
 

See Eamon Maher, Cross-Currents and Confluences: Echoes of Religion in Twentieth-Century Fiction (Dublin: Veritas 2000); Angela Ryan [essay comparing Kate O’Brien and François Mauriac], in Maher & Grace Neville, eds., France-Ireland - Anatomy of a Relationship: Studies in History, Literature and Politics, preface J.J. Lee (Frankfurt am Main/ Oxford: Peter Lang [2004]), q.pp.

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See also José Antonio Sierra, “Kate O’Brien and the Basque Country 1897-1974”,
in (El Pais, 1985) - as attached.


Commentary

Frank O’Connor
Eavan Boland
Lorna Reynolds
Ann Owen Weekes
John Hildebidle
John Cronin
Adele Dalsimer
Anthony Roche
Eileen Battersby
Anne Fogarty
Declan Kiberd
Anne Enright

Frank O’Connor: ‘As I write, even a piece of sentimental Catholicism like Miss O’Brien’s Land of Spices, which, in America, has been a colossal success among sectarian organizations, is legally outlawed in Ireland as being “in its general tendency indecent” - it contains one brief reference to homosexuality.’ ( ‘The Future of Irish Literature’, Horizon, Jan. 1942; rep. in David Pierce, ed., Irish Writing in the Twentieth Century: A Reader, Cork UP 2000, pp.500.)

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Eavan Boland (Introduction to The Ante-Room, Dublin: Arlen House Edn. 1980); ‘There was an Ireland between the mortgaged acres of Maria Edgeworth and the strong farms of Mary Lavin’s short stories. It was an Ireland of increasing wealth and uneasy conscience, where the women wore stays [141] and rouged cheeks, had their clothes made by Dublin dressmakers and tried to forget the hauntings of their grandparents. This was Catholic Ireland; it was never nationalist Ireland.’ (Quoted in John Cronin, The Anglo-Irish Novel [II], 1990.)

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Lorna Reynolds, Kate O’Brien: A Literary Portrait (Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1987): ‘Catholicism is presented [in The Ante-Room] as a characteristic of the class and race of the girl. What we are given is Catholic feeling in its inward process, operating on the level of individual consciousness. Catholic teaching is not just given mouth-service, merely acknowledged, but is understood and accepted as an inescapable part of life. But love,too, is seen as inescapable.’ (p.5.) [Of The Ante-Room:] ‘[Agnes] finds that one kind of love, established, familial love, cannot be sacrificed to passionate, lawless love.’ (p.56.) ‘[The characters believe] in God’s power, in the efficacy of prayer and the primacy of religious duty is taken for granted by everybody.’ (p.113; quoted by Franzisha Luetgens, UG Essay, UUC 2003.)

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Ann Owens Weekes, Irish Women Writers: An Uncharted Tradition (Kentucky UP 1990), writes: ‘in parallel[ing] Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, she assert[s] at the same time the increased difficulty for the artist as a young woman and posited an alternative paradigm for all would-be artists.’ (p.111; quoted in Claire Wallace, ‘Place and Displacement in Kate O’Brien’s The Land of Spices’, IASIL Conference, 1998.)

John Hildebidle, Five Irish Writers: The Errand of Keeping Alive (Harvard UP 1989), writes of The Ante-Room: ‘What Kate O’Brien is embodying here is the Romantic conception of love as a great tragic force: that she makes the vehicle of this force an Irish girl, Catholic to the marrow in moral feeling and doctrinal training, contributes to the originality of the novel.’ (p.85; quoting Lorna Reynolds, as supra.) ‘[T]he real battle is not between love and duty but between love and love.’ (p.69; quoted in Franzisha Luetgens, UG Essay, UUC 2003.)

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John Cronin, ‘Kate O’ Brien: The Ante-Room’, in Irish Fiction, 1900-1940 (Belfast: Appletree Press 1990), writes of the Mellick novels: ‘In concentrating her creative efforts on this social group [the Considines], Kate O’Brien, in addition to identifying fictionally her chosen people, was also fulfilling a long-standing impulse of the Irish novel. For there is a sense in which the Irish novel of the nineteenth century hankered after the middle ground so familiar in the English novel, an area generally denied to Irish novelists by the fearsome turbulence of a sharply divided colonial society.’ (p.140.) Cronin compares her situation to that of Gerald Griffin, who incorporated the middle-class Dalys in his Collegians (1829), and adds: ‘It is highly interesting to notice how careful she is to stress the apolitical nature of her nineteenth-century Considines.’ (p.141.) Of The Ante-Room (1934): ‘The tremulous, loving, doomed tie between diseased son and diseased mother is one of the most poignantly effective of the book’s many relationships. This is to be a novel about the conflict between duty and passion and Kate O’Brien presents her main events through a story which is as rigorously disciplined as her first [novel] was diffuse. [...;’ cont.]

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John Cronin, ‘Kate O’ Brien: The Ante-Room’, in Irish Fiction (1990) - cont.: ‘All the characters will be tested by love in one form or another during the short, tense period of the novel, which has the neo-classical density of a well-crafted play, with its several relationships enacted and explored in an atmosphere of almost stifling religious intensity. All the characters are Catholics and most of them practise their demanding religion to the hilt with an almost Jansenistic fervour. A compelling aura of religiosity is thrown over the entire household when Teresa’s brother, Canon Tom Considine, ordains a Triduum of prayer [...] The action of the book takes place on three Holy Days, Hallowe’en, All Saint’s Day and All Soul’s Day [...].’ (p.143.) ‘The book’s peculiar strength resides in the author’s determination to test the demands of romantic love with complete consistency against the rigours of a stringent ethical code which allows its practitioners no convenient loopholes, no possibility of self-deceit or comfortable evasion. its most obvious weakness lies in its frequent failure to provide its troubled and thoughtful characters with genuinely convincing dialogue.’ (Idem.) And later: ‘It would seem to be the case that in this one novel [...], she decided to set herself the challenge of writing about what she called (in Mary Lavelle) “the mighty lie of romantic passion” in a setting of rigid Catholic orthodoxy and even if the resultant novel is sometimes dangerously close to melodramatic mawkishness it has too a curious, consistent power which derives from its relentless determination to play fair by its own rules.’ (p.146.)

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Adele M. Dalsimer, Kate O’Brien: A Critical Study (Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1990), writes of The Ante-Room: ‘[S]o strong is Agnes’s morality, so organic is her relationship with her upbringing, that her choice accords fully with her Catholic training.’ (p.21; quoted in Catherine Hemphill, UG Essay, UUC 2003.) ‘Although his death preserves Agnes for her family, Vincent’s death is a weak ending to this powerful book. The final words should be Agnes’s. She has made the righteous decision, everything she has known or been taught has led to it.’ (Dalsimer, p.32; cited in Bridget Kearns, UG Essay, UUC 2000.) ‘[The novel focuses on Catholicism as] an inner psychological dynamic rather than an external social force’ [and further] ‘treats it [Catholicism] with the utmost credibility and respect’ (pp. 21, 25; quoted by Franzisha Luetgens, UG Essay, 2003.)

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Anthony Roche, ‘The Ante-Room as Drama’ [chap.], in Ordinary People Dancing: Essays on Kate O’Brien, ed. Éibhear Walshe (Cork UP 1993): ‘These references [to Parnell, et al.] do not need to be much elaborated, in O’Brien’s fiction or in this analysis. They are characters from a familiar history, leading males in the narrative of Irish nationalism and the emergence of an Irish Free State. What the novel most often suggests in its comparisons between Ireland in the 1880s and the 1930s is that for all the fifty-year gap and for all the political and revolutionary activity witnessed, very little has changed.’ (p.87.)

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Anthony Roche (‘The Ante-Room as Drama’, 1993) - cont.: ‘O’Brien restores Ibsen’s original setting, the claustrophobic living-quarters of the upper middle-class bourgeoisie, and with it much of his social critique.’ (p.89.) [Commenting her Agnes response to Dr. Curran’s earlier rebuff:] ‘By [...] commenting upon Dr. Curran's discourse, Agnes appropriates and reverses the relationship of power it is seeking ot exert upon her. She also exposes the image o f the femme fatale as something constructed, male. But finally she admits its attraction [...] that it offers her a flattering imge which she is encouraged to imitate ’ (p.93; quoted in Paula McDonald, PG Dip., UUC 2011.) ‘[O’Brien] is distinctive inbringing her political critique to bear on the exclusion, not of the Six Counties, but of woman from that promised liberation.’ (p.95; quoted in McDonald, op. cit.) [Cont.]

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Anthony Roche (‘The Ante-Room as Drama’, 1993) - cont.: ‘Agnes cannot draw close to her mother because of similarity of character and because she has to function as Teresa’s living counterpart in the daily running of Roseholm, while her mother’s spiritual needs are attended to by Sister Emmanuel and her physical ailments by Nurse Cunningham. This leaves Teresa free to prefer and to idealise Mary-Rose as her true daughter.’ (p.95.) ‘Two powerful forces stand in the way of her [Agnes’s] desire. One is her allegiance to the Catholic Church. The other is her profound attachment to her sister Marie-Rose, the object of the “pity” that complicates her desire for Vincent’ (p.97.) [Cont.]

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Anthony Roche (‘The Ante-Room as Drama’, 1993) - cont.: ‘[The Ante-Room] derives a structure from the rituals of the Catholic Church and so provides a challenge to the inherited plot-structures of the nineteenth-century English novel.’ (p.97.) ‘The act of confession provides her [Agnes] with some relief; but the solution is only a temporary one. A gap remains and is finally seen as a failure of translation, between the words of consolation offered by the Church and the language of her human needs and heart.’ (p.98.) [Quoted in Edward Evans, Tina Warren, and Franzisha Luetgens, UG Essays, UUC 2003.]

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Mary Breen, ‘Something Understood? Kate O’Brien and The Land of Spices’, in Ordinary People Dancing: Essays on Kate O’Brien, ed. Éibhear Walshe (Cork UP 1993), calls the novel a ‘radical and subversive critique of conservative patriachal ideology, in particular that articulated in the Irish Constitution of 1937.’ (p.167.) Further, the novel ‘questions and criticises the whole ideology of that period in Irish cultural history ... by its detachment from Irish nationalism [and] its foregrounding of the viability of female identity outside patriarchal family units.’ (p.167-68.) [Vide., Art. 41: ‘The State shall ... endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home’: Bunreacht na hEireann, 1937.] (The foregoing quoted in Paula McDonald, PG Dip., UUC 2011.)

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Eileen Battersby, ‘What Kate Wrote: Dissecting the Bourgeois Mind’ (Irish Times, 15 Feb. 1997) [article occasioned by ‘Kate O’Brien Weekend’, opened by President Mary Robinson at St. Michael’s Church, Pery Sq., Limerick, with contributions from Ronit Lentin, Mary Morrisey, and Aisling Foster on the theme of ‘Secret Lives’.

That censorship thing ...

Siobhan Kilfeather writes: ‘Sexuality became a metaphor for political revolt [...] apologists for the Irish peasantry […] contributed to the production of a moral climate in which unruly, illegitimate sexuality becomes unrepresentable.’ (‘Sex and Sensation in the Nineteenth-century Novel’, in Gender Pespectives in Nineteenth-century Ireland, Public and Private Spheres (IAP 1997, p.84.)

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Anne Fogarty, ‘The Ear of the Other: Dissident Voices in Kate O’Brien’s As Music and Splendour and Marcy Dorcey’s A Noise from the Woodshed’, in Éibhear Walshe, ed., Sex, Nation and Dissent in Irish Writing (Cork UP 1997), pp.170-201: Nothing else in Kate O’Brien’s literary career prepares us for the richly realised intensity and satisfying roundedness of her final novel, As Music and Splendour, published in 1958. All of its many elements were anticipated in her preceding work, including the themes of exile, romantic quest and sexual discovery, as well as her modernist insistence that individuation can be achieved only through the experience of dislocation and alienation. However, despite its evident self-reprise, this final novel succeeds in imbuing familiar themes and motifs with a new energy and momentum. Few of O’Brien’s previous fictions succeeds in examining the development of the heroine at such close quarters and with such detailed concentration. Tellingly too, lesbian and homosexual love are not simply relegated in this last novel to a subplot, as is the case in Mary Lavelle and The Land of Spices. Instead, for the first time in O’Brien’s oeuvre, lesbian love is moved literally and metaphorically centre-stage as the author recounts the transformation and emotional growth of her heroines who are training to become opera singers. Hence this final fiction is compelling because it is a unique instance in Irish literature of the period of what Terry Castle calls the “counterplot” of lesbian fiction. Heterosexual romance here no [176] longer displaces the story of lesbian love. In fact, as will later become evident, it is frequently depicted either as the negative counterpart to or as a metonym for female same-sex desire.’ (pp.175-76.) [Cont.]

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Anne Fogarty, ‘The Ear of the Other: Dissident Voices in Kate O’Brien’s As Music and Splendour and Marcy Dorcey’s A Noise from the Woodshed’ (1997): ‘The difference which marks these two characters [Clare and Rose] is depicted as the dual result of their sexual unconventionality and of their national background. Although Ireland endows Rose and Clare with feelings of lack, at the same time the alterity of their identity as Irish women is seen as enhancing rather than disabling them. Above all, the Ireland from which they draw sustenance is rural, female and domestic. Clare, in particular, is haunted by the memory of the “civilised, good voice of her grandmother, who lives in the west of Ireland, telling her to come in out of the wind to her tea” (AM, 48). The semiotic plenitude and innocence of this lost childhood world appear to be the inverse of the moral conflicts and confusions of their adult life in Italy. Yet, as the novel indicates, the secret but insistent language of homovocality links these two opposing places. Through such daring and suggestive metaphorical entwinings, O’Brien succeeds not just in mounting a subtle but firm critique of the small-mindedness of Catholic morality, but also in suggesting that the values of the lesbian mode of being which her novel describes are of a piece with the ideals of Irish cultural nationalism.’ [Cont.]

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Anne Fogarty, ‘The Ear of the Other: Dissident Voices in Kate O’Brien’s As Music and Splendour and Marcy Dorcey’s A Noise from the Woodshed’ (1997) - cont.: ‘As Music and Splendour radically interweaves a discourse which insists on the racial purity and primal innocence of the Irish with a discourse of sexual dissidence. Thus the novel constantly underlines the chastity and moral fastidiousness of Clare and Rose as well as their Bohemianism and liberalism. However, O’Brien’s final fiction shows that Ireland is still not ready to accept the radical presence of dissident voices, even though it has given birth to and shaped them. When Clare returns home to attend her dying grandmother at the end of the novel, she is shocked by the ‘primitive life of her own people and recognises that she could never lead the “uncomforted” existence which is their lot (AM, 343). She is faced with a stark choice between Ballykerin and a “return to the world” (AM, 344). Perforce, she chooses the latter. We are told that, with her departure, “Ballykerin ended” (AM, 344). O’Brien finally dashes the myth of a pure and romantic Ireland to pieces because it is not capacious enough to accommodate the queer appropriations to which she has subjected it in the novel. Instead we are left on the final page with Clare’s resigned declaration that sin “was the word of all” (p. 346). The attentive reader will pick up on the implication that the sin which As Music and Splendour has explored without any compunction is, in fact, as the ending of Joyce’s “The Dead” states, “general all over Ireland” But, for the period in which O’Brien was writing, only a fiction of hopeful exile and Orphic sadness is capable of relaying this radical insight.’ (end sect.; p.190.)

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Declan Kiberd, in Irish Classics (London: Granta 2000): ‘Her world is divided into two sorts of person - those who can unflinchingly face their own experiences and those who steadfastly refuse to do so.’ (p.560.) Quotes George Eliot: ‘later-born Theresas were helped by no coherent social faith which could perform the function of knowledge for the ardently willing soul. […] a certain spiritual grandeur matched with meanness of opportunity’ (p.561; also quotes O’Brien on Eliot, as infra.) ‘The Ante-Room will contain brief passages of interior monologue set within the consciousness of most of the major characters, so that the precedent set by Ulysses is honoured: but the device is so sparingly and so cautiously used (even in dramatising the thoughts of Agnes) as to constitute a regression to nineteenth-century modes. […] Her revolutionary notions are given the protective coverage of well-tried structures, even as her fascination with the possibilities of popular women’s romances is well contained with the protocols of nineteenth-century novels as practiced by Eliot and James.’ (p.562.) ‘In the space she occupies between high and popular art, she opens up a zone of ambiguity in which an unprecedented knowledge may become possible.’ (p.568.) Further, quotes remark on ‘Ireland as “Heaven’s ante-room.”’ (The Last of Summer, 1982, p.48; here p.568.) [Cont.]

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Declan Kiberd, in Irish Classics (London: Granta 2000) - cont.: ‘Desire in The Ante-Room is invariably a displaced form of family feeling, which is usually “mapped” onto a transitional object - by Vincent from his dead mother Agnes, by her from her living sister to Vincent. Yet it must, in the stringent economy of the emotions, be returned to the family in the end. Not even the incest taboo seems strong enough to overwhelm it. The ante-room is never really abandoned, except by Dr Curran who, for all his crazy notions of femmes fatales, can experience a truly selfless love for another person: ‘let her love anyone, his heart cried, so long as that anyone can take her love and keep it in fidelity and fruitfulness” (AR, 151). Vincent clearly cannot. […]’ (p.570). ‘The comedy of manners that should end in a male-female wedding has become instead a sombre tragedy of conscience in which painful weddings are undone and a hollow marriage is greeted as a boon. The conclusion, for all the melodrama of the last line, is richly sceptical.’ (p.571.) ‘The central mysteries of faith are never questioned. There may be a crisis of conscience but there is no waning of belief.’ (p.571).

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Declan Kiberd, in Irish Classics (London: Granta 2000) - cont.: ‘O’Brien, for all her agnosticism, wrote with tender respect for those audacious enough to place their belief in the central mystery of Catholicism […] She could feel this respect because she considered herself above “the mighty lie of romantic passion” (AR, 173), and so she felt the need to afford human solidarities some institutional protection.’ (p.571-72.) Also notes that O’Brien presents heroines with ‘a passion not so much for men as for the processes of the mind itself.’ (p.557.) (Quoted in part Tina Warren & Franzisha Luetgens, UG Essays, UUC 2003.)

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Anne Enright, ‘A many-splendoured love story’, in The Irish Times, Weekend (20 Aug. 2005): ‘Lesbianism is not Clare’s problem; her problem is the same as that of her great friend, Rose: she must find her voice. The girls meet at a school in Paris where they have been sent, fresh from provincial Ireland, to train for the great opera houses of Europe. They are young, they can sing. They could break your heart. The novel follows them to a maestro’s house in Rome, where they fall in and out of love with their fellow students, and then through their first seasons as fledgling divas, aiming for La Scala, and beyond. [...] Clare’s problem is, first and foremost, a spiritual one. At the age of 16, “she had to balance herself, unaware of her ordeal, on the sharp and dipping ring - made of light - where the spirit has to decide with the flesh between union and divorce.” This is the challenge set to her voice, which is a cool, androgynous, intellectual instrument, as set against the joyful virtuosity of Rose. The question is not what kind of flesh Clare should indulge in, but whether she should indulge at all. This is not a problem of sexuality, but of art, and it can be resolved only by artistic means. In order to become a true artist, however, Clare must experience sexual love.’ (See full text, in Library, “Reviews” [infra.]

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Quotations
From the Works
Without My Cloak (1931)
The Ante-Room (1934)
Mary Lavelle (1936)
The Land of Spices (1941)
That Lady (1941)
Sundry Remarks
George Eliot
Writer as moralist
James Joyce
UCD as I Forget It

From the Works
Without My Cloak (1931): ‘His [John Considine’s] forage trade expanded, in spite of fluctuations of his luck, and before he was fifty he had to be accepted, however reluctantly, in Mellick, as an important citizen. He possessed the more ordinary civic virtues; he was sober and honest, moderately generous, and with a sufficiency of local patriotism; he was proud to be a Catholic in days when that was not easy; and he always showed the courage of his rather staid opinions. He had only one enthusiasm and that was for Daniel O’Connell, “the Liberator”, as he unfailingly called him. After O’Connell’s death he lost such interest as he had had in national affairs, and watched them, and the affairs of all the world, merely for their material reactions on his business and family. Political agitators, Ribbonmen, Young Irelanders, and such like filled him with rage, and he was not shy about cursing them when he got the chance. The Potato Blight concerned him chiefly in that it was disastrous to his trade; the Crimean War brought back prosperity and was remembered with affection. During the Indian Mutiny he was vaguely and sardonically amused at what he guessed of England’s difficulties, but his native inclination always to think and act as an Irishman was perpetually impeded by a secret sentimental tendency to admire the sturdy little Queen. He inclined to like Mr. Gladstone better than Mr. Cobden, and he distrusts Lord Palmerston in all things. He was a hard master, a good Churchman, and an affectionate father - undemonstrative with his sons, but genial and courteous to his daughters. And as with every years his respectability grew in the town, so with every year he learnt to take a greater pride in the accident of his surname. To be a Considine seemed to Honest John a very special and magnificent responsibility. And all his children had grown up to agree with him.’ (p.15.)

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Without My Cloak (1931): ‘ANTHONY, whose father thought him an encyclopaedia of culture, had had, even my Mellick standards, only a very average education, and perhaps the world beyond Mellick would have said that he was not educated at all. The Christian Brothers did their best for him, and did it firmly, leather strap in hand, but, emerging wearily from penal laws and hedgemastering, had little time to mince round the fine arts with their pupils. So, whether for reasons of nature or education or both, Anthony, brightest in his class at reading and writing and arithmetic, and more susceptible than most men to the beauty of women, of old simple songs and of the rivered landscape he was born in, had, as they say, no taste.’ (p.22.) CONSIDINE’S NEW HOUSE: ‘There were three storeys of this house in front, and four at the back, where Mr. Downey allowed to servant’s quarters to get the light of day. It fronted westward, throwing out its pathetic new colour across the curving waters, to streaky old bogs and wine bloom of the Bearnagh hills.’ [23] DENIS’S GROWTH & CHANGE: ‘This that had looked like the unasked-for opening of gates was only after all their final clanging-to. What had once [410] seemed wise, and then for a moment paltry, was now inevitable. To have married Denis while his desire was still insatiable except by her would have seemed grasping, would have been to ask too much. To marry him now would be like murder, said her fanatic heart. / There was no reason in her. But her searchings into knowledge of Denis had always been irrational, harvested from touch and pause and intonation, from words unsaid, from light and shadow of his eyes. These gave her such clues as convinced her obstinately of her own right understanding of them. In nothing else would this girl have claimed infallibility [...]’ (p.411).

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The Ante-Room (1934): ‘We are helpless, ignorant and helpless. And it isn’t the final impassivity of heaven that matters, though that’s like a caul enclosing the world. That’s unavoidable. But our worst helplessness has only to do with the affairs of this immediate life - and we’ll never correct it, because we’ll never find a way to learn the workings of each other. This uniqueness, this isolation - oh God, it makes the simplest day unbearable.’ (Quoted in Benedict Kiely, ‘Love & Pain & Parting: the Novels of Kate O’Brien’, in A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays, Cork UP 1999, p.58.) [Cont.]

The Ante-Room (1934): ‘How delicious to have this sister here again! And now with heart cleansed of offence against her, no cooled by antiseptic of confession, to be able to turn to her, with the old, deep, unstained affection - it was glorious! To have been able, after ten weeks of miserable dreaming and self-pity, to enter a room where he was and look at him and feel no fear or [hurt] or tenderness - God, that was bliss, that was a miracle.’ (The Ante-Room [1996 Edn.], p.106; Kearns, op. cit., n.p.) [Cont.]

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The Ante-Room (1934): ‘Being Irish, Teresa obviously couldn’t be Conservative, but being a woman she was spared the necessity of knowing for certain which party was which. In any case, political feeling never ran high in the Considine blood. The destiny of mankind, or any race of it, mattered only in so far as it furthered the interests of an established family. Teresa was inclined to regards politics as she regarded firearms - things that shouldn’t be left about the house.’ (Quoted in John Cronin, The Irish Fiction, 1900-1940, Belfast: Appletree 1992, p.140.) [Cont.]

The Ante-Room (1934): ‘Sir Godfrey [Bartlett-Crowe] was a connoisseur of women up and down the social scale, but he had never met a colleen. .. Perhaps a little teasing - a playful reproduction of their quaint brogue - / These ladies were not shy and wild, and though they had a brogue, Sir Godfrey felt that its movements were too subtle for imitation. [203 ...] He began to perceive that, contrary to his expectations, he would need skill if he was to get the true essence of this company in which he found himself - and that even then it very likely would elude him. Surprising! In this painfully old-fashioned drawing-room, and among people who did not dress - that is to say, really dress for dinner! - But, indeed, the black suitings and white linen of all these men were perfectly presentable, and the ladies, though, of course, their décolletages were not ceremonial, were exquisite in silks and jewels. [-; 204] So this was Ireland! Surprise was still naively in his face, and still there was a nervous desire to make a joke of the surprise, and yet again the uneasy feeling that he had better not do that. [205; for longer extract, see attached]

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The Ante-Room (1934): [Vincent on his mother:] ‘She used to make me feel something that you do [...] a kind of finality of appreciation [...] a stillness, as if her mere being alive justified everything. It’s a lovely, cool sensation, and although it’s love, I suppose, it has nothing to do with the other feeling, of wanting to touch you. Perhaps it’s the sort of thing some absolutely perfect work of art should cause [...] but, still, it’s warmer than that, and it’s surer. (p.244; quoted in Catherine Hemphill, UG Essay, UUC 2003.) [Cont.]

The Ante-Room (1934): [Agnes on religion:] ‘But God could surely take some fraction of responsibility for the needs He planted in His helpless creatures? He gave you Grace and the moral law and the True Church. And put him in my path, she retorted softly and gladly, thrust him into my life and gave me eyes to see him.’ (p.266; quoted in Hemphill, op. cit.) [See longer extracts in Library, “Irish Classics”, via index, or direct.]

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The Land of Spices (1941): ‘Free in her meditations on God’s will and His hopes for humanity she admitted that human love must almost always offend the heavenly lover by its fatuous egotism. To stand still and eventually understand was, she saw, an elementary duty of love. To run away, to take cover, to hate in blindness, and luxuriously to seek vengeance in an unexplained cutting-off, in a seizure upon high and proud antithesis that was stupidity masquerading offensively before the good God’. (Quoted in Benedict Kiely, op. cit., 1999, p.65).

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The Land of Spices (1941): ‘And now all was done that age may do for childhood. Anna’s schooldays were closed and there was no appeal against the advance of life and the flight of innocence. She had been taught to be good and to understand the law of God. Also, she had been set free to be herself. Her wings were grown and she was for the world. In poverty, in struggle, in indecisiveness - but for some these were good beginnings. Good for Anna, Reverend Mother thought, and was glad to know that it was forward to them she was going. Prayer would follow her, prayer always could. It would have been happy to have been at hand, a little longer, to have heard something of the first flights and first returns. But such a wish was nothing. All that could be done was done. Anna was for life now, to make what she could of it. Prayer could go with her, making no weight and whether or not she remembered the days of the poems [as] an ageing nun would remember them. How sweet is the shepherd’s sweet lot, from the morn to the evening he strays. Reverend Mother passed by the bright opening of the elm-trees and looked over the lawns to the blue lake.’ (?End; quoted in Kiely, op. cit. pp.64-65.)

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The Land of Spices (1941) - Anna, on meeting Miss Robertson: ‘[...] she saw now that whereas a boy and an eldest son may expect or command the sacrafices and co-operation of others to his ends, a girl can do no suchc thing. And that in fact if a girl sees liberty as the greatest of all desirables, she wil have to spin it out of herself [...] it was well to hve noticed in time that liberty was precious; it was very well to have got to know a suffragette.’ (Virago Edn., p.209; quoted in Paula McDonald, PG Dip, UUC 2011.) The novel ends with the impending Great War: ‘old faiths would be tested, and indeed all human hopes nad dreams might bave to undergo an ordeal impossible to imagine, and which might outspan lives of watchers younger than she.’ (Virago Edn. 2007, pp.293-94; quoted in McDonald, op. cit.)

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That Lady (1941): ‘Is my poor scruple greater than what I give this man and take from him? Am I to set my little private sense of sin above his claim on me and his unhappiness? Am I cheating because I want him and have grown tired of the unimportant fuss of my immortal soul? Am I pretending to be generous simply to escape again into his power?’ (Quoted in Benedict Kiely, op. cit., 1999, p.65.) ‘And I have repented long ago in that clear-cut sense and returned to the usual religious practices. And I accept these years and all this empty loneliness and foresakenness as part perhaps of my purgatory. But as this purgatory was forced on me, I cannot seek to derive merit from it in heaven - and, in general, I can’t, with any honesty, turn to God, as holy people say. Because, while accepting His ruling, I shall always be glad of Antonio’. (n.p.; quoted in ibid., pp.64-65.)

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Mary Lavelle (1947)

The passage that outraged the Irish censors ...

Listen, it's been fantastic, my time in Spain. It's been a mad, impossible thing dropped into my ordinary life. Tomorrow it will be over, and although it has changed all my plans, life will have to be ordinary again in some way that I know nothing about now. So, before it's over, finish it for me, Juanito. I can't see how I can ever care for anyone again - I love you so mucho I suppose I will - when I'm old and ugly. But I want you to have me first - just for this one time, up here where you used to play when you were a little boy. Nothing else will content me, however long I live, if you refuse me this. (Mary Lavelle [1936], London: Heinemann 1947, p.227.)

The bullfight ...

[it seemed to Mary] vivid with beauty and beauty's anguish, more full of news of life's possible pain and senselessness and quixotic and barbarism and glory than ever before encountered by her, more real and exacting ... more symbolic, more dramatic, a more personal and searching arrow to the heart than ever she dreamed of … Here was art in its less decent form, the least explainable or bearable. But art unconcerned and lawless. (Ibid., 88-89)

 

The above quotations given in José Antonio Sierra, “Kate O’Brien and the Basque Country 1897-1974” (El Pais, 1985). For full text [in English], see attached.

 

Sundry Remarks
George Eliot (‘George Eliot: A Moralist and a Fabulist’): ‘She was always primarily concerned for the moral development of her characters whilst being able to expose their dilemmas with the purest possible detachment, yet tenderly. The right and wrong of each heart - its own right and wrong - was her quarry; and she would spare no trouble to catch up with it, and study it calmly in relation to its place and nature.’ (In G. R. Hamilton, ed., Essays by Divers Hands [Trans. of the Royal Soc. of Literature: 27], London 1955, p.55; quoted in also in Declan Kiberd, Kate O’Brien: The Ante-Room’, in Irish Classics, 2000, p.559.)

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Writer as moralist: ‘I am a moralist, in that I see no story unless there is a moral conflict, and the old-fashioned sense of the soul and its troubling effect in human affairs.’ (Quoted in Vivian Mercier, ‘Kate O’Brien’, in Irish Writing, I, 1946, pp.86-100, p.98; cited in John Cronin, Irish Fiction, 1900-1940, Belfast: Appletree Press 1990, p.146; also in Declan Kiberd, Irish Classics, 2000, p.559.)

James Joyce: ‘The Joyce influence, which is or has been everywhere in Europe, is not now very evident in Irish writing. It is as if there is a kind of revolt against this kind of greatness.’ (‘Imaginative Prose by the Irish, 1820-1970’, in Myth and Reality in Irish Literature, ed. Joseph Ronsley, Ontario 1977, pp.305-15, p.312; quoted in James Cahalan, The Irish Novel, Syracuse 1988, p.220.)

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UCD as I Forget It’, in University Review (Summer 1963), pp.6-11: ‘Proust has taught us that the memories we sit down to, that we select and seek, are false. Perhaps we might have suspected that, those of us who were reading Turgeniev when Proust's first volumes were coming out. The past blows up when it will, and cannot be commanded; but the tonic sharpness of its accidental visitations is a gift, a restitution to age for which no one would know how to pray, but which mus tnot go unthanked. And house-moving can stir a lively dust, bright motes throwing shafts of backward light; so all this healthy fussing out of UCD to Belfield and the suburbs turns some of us towards unsought remembrances. [...]’ (p.6; see longer extracts - attached.)

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References
Seamus Deane, gen. ed., The Field Day Anthology of Irish Writing (Derry: Field Day 1991), Vol. 2, selects The Ante-Room; 1221, BIOG describes Teresa of Avila as a proto-feminism portrait of a great woman. BIBL. cites Augustine Martin, ed. The Genius of Irish Prose (Cork [Mercier Press] 1985); Lorna Reynolds, Kate O’Brien: A Literary Portrait (Gerrards Cross 1987); Adele M. Dalsimer, Kate O’Brien: A Critical Study (Gill & Macmillan 1990).

Helena Sheehan, Irish Television Drama: A Society and Its Stories (RTE/Mercier 1987), lists TV film, The Ante-Room, adpt. Tony Hickey and dir. Sean Cotter (1981).

Libraries & Booksellers : Belfast Central Public Library (1956 Catalogue) holds Farewell Spain (1937), and Our Little Life (1931). Hyland Books (1995) lists Kate O’Brien, ‘Writers of Letters’, in Essays and Studies (1956), which also contains a contrib. from T. R. Henn (‘The Accent of Yeats’s Last Poems’).

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Notes
Mary Lavelle (1936), a novel in which the title character travels to Spain and through her relationship with Juanito, with whom she experiences sexual love - and later emotional loss - comes to repudiate the ‘violent and terrible Irish purity’ of her home embracing instead the desire to ‘belong to no one place’ - a feminist position to be compared with Virginia Woolf’s determination to belong to ‘no country’ in A Room of One’s Own.

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The Ante-Room (1934) Agnes Mulqueen is in love with Vincent, the husband of her vivacious sister Marie-Rose; her mother Teresa is dying of cancer while her father Danny potters about the house; Canon Considine, her maternal uncle, conducts a Triduum mass in the ante-room of the title; Dr. Curran finds himself proposing to Agnes and is rejected; Nurse Cunningham plans to become the wife of Reggie, Teresa’s weak and syphilitic son whose nurture she is determined to settle before she dies; Vincent, faced with Agnes’s resistance to the desire to place their love for each other before hers for her sister and her religious principles, commits suicide with a shotgun to resolve the crisis. The novel is set over days of All Souls’ Feast in the family home where her mother Teresa is dying of cancer. The novel includes a visit from London specialists to the household of this Irish haute-bourgeois family.

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The Land of Spices (1941): Anna Murphy, an Irish girl, is the protagonist - jointly with Mother Helen Archer, the English head-mistress of her convent school who has embraced the religious life in response to the shock of seeing her father in a homsexual embrace with a male student, causing her to ‘seal up’ her childhood and its pain (Virago Edn. 2007, p.20.). Mother Helen ultimately comes to understand and forgive her father for his supposed transgress, and resists the wishes of Anna’s family and insist that she take up her opportunity of going to university. The novel ends with the impending Great War and the testing of old ‘old faiths.’ It. is named after the concluding lines of George Herbert’s sonnet: ‘Exalted manna; gladnesse of the best, / heaven in ordinarie, man well drest, / The milkie way, the bird of Paradise / Church-bels beyond the starres heard; the soul’s / bloud. The land of spices, something understood.’ (Quoted in Benedict Kiely, ‘Love, Pain and Parting: the Novels of Kate O’Brien’, A Raid into Dark Corners and Other Essays, Cork UP 1999, pp.62, 62; Note that in quoting these lines in part, Kiely cites others by Herbert too: ‘The wrong is mixed. In tragic life, Got wot, / No villain need be! Passion spins the plot; / We are betrayed by what is false within.’)

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Mary Lavelle (1936) is the name of the eponymous character in W. B. Yeats’ story “Red Hanrahan” (1903): ‘[...] I ’twas in the white light of the morning he set out [...] till he could get to Mary Lavelle’s house. But when he came to it, he found the door broken, and the thatch dropping from the roof, and no living person to be seen. And when he asked the neighbours what had happened to her, all they could say was that she had been put out of the house, and had married some labouring man, and they had gone looking for work to London or Liverpool or some big place. And whether she found a worse place or a better he never knew, but anyway he never met with her or with news of her again.’ (“Red Hanrahan”, 1903; rep. in Richard J. Finneran, ed., The Yeats Reader, NY: Scribner 1997, pp.449-50.)

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James Joyce: Kate O’Brien reviewed Joyce’s [posthumous] first novel Stephen Hero (1944) in ‘Fiction’, The Spectator, 173 (4 Aug. 1944), p.112, remarking: ‘had he died leaving only Stephen Hero behind him, I wonder how many would have guessed exactly at the world’s loss? For read side by side with A Portrait of the Artist, it is crude and rough and arrogant and ugly’. [Q. source.]

Seán O Faoláin writes, ‘Kate O’Brien did much better in some ways. She dug into Limerick, or if one prefers saw through Limerick more deeply.’ (Letter to Jim Kemmy [1987], printed in Seán Dunne, ed., Cork Review [“O Faoláin Special Issue”] (Cork 1991), p.63.

Robert Fisk meditates on the former Yugoslavia in the light of Kate O’Brien’s Farewell Spain, in Graph 2. 1 (1995) [noticed in Irish Literary Supplement, Fall 1995, Brief Notes].

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Moral fiction: In ‘George Eliot: Moralising Fabulist’ [q.d.], Kate O’Brien refers to The Mill on the Floss as having moved ‘the English novel miles ahead of itself’, propelling its ‘whole moral conception forward’, so tat as a form, the novel could become the instrument or ‘an active and unblinking conscience’. (Quoted in Adele Dalsimer, Kate O’Brien: A Critical Study, Dublin: Gill & Macmillan 1990, p.22; cited in Bridget Kearns, UUC, 2000.)

Tributes: Mary Coll, All Things Considered (Galway: Salmon Press 2003) [recte 2005], contains a poem dedicated to Kate O’Brien (“Something understood”); Louise C. Callaghan, Find the Lady: A Life of Kate O’Brien, a play commissioned and produced by the Abbey Theatre, Dublin ([q.d.])

Banned writer: Kate O’Brien’s Farewell to Spain was banned in that country and the author forbidden to enter it until the Irish ambassador intervened.

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Obit.: The Times obituary asserted that ‘her tastes was impeccable and she had subtlety, beauty and imagination at her command’ (quoted in Robert Greacen, review of Eibhear Walshe, Kate O’Brien: A Writing Life, in Books Ireland, Summer 2006, p.142.) Greacen also mentions that the heroine in Brief Encounter (the wartime British film) was on her way to Boots’ Lending Library because “the librarian has promised to save me the latest Kate O’Brien”, and calls O’Brien’s ‘basically a sad life’.

Inscription: Library of Melanie Stewart [née Le Brocquy] holds The Flower of May (1953), with the author’s inscription on front-paper: “Love to my dear friend Sybil / With this inscriptions - / Nov. 17th, 1953. / Women Writers’ Clublin - Dublin.” The text is sign-dated “Roundstone / Co. Galway / October 1952” [p.374pp.]

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